Revisiting Cameron Crowe‘s Elizabethtown

Our look back at Cameron Crowe's films concludes with Elizabethtown...

Trust me. Everybody is less mysterious than they think they are.” – Claire

The Recap

By the mid-noughties Cameron Crowe had no less than five successful movies under his belt and had forged a creative partnership with Hollywood star Tom Cruise, who has not only been directed in two of his most successful movies, but was to become producer of both Vanilla Sky and Crowe’s last film of the decade and, indeed, his career thus far, Elizabethtown.

Drew Baylor’s (Orlando Bloom) life is currently not going to plan. Fired from his job and dumped by his girlfriend Ellen (Jessica Biel), he decides the best course would be to kill himself by being stabbed repeatedly by a knife attached to an exercise bike. Just before he can go ahead with his plan, his sister Heather (Judy Greer) calls to let him know their father has just died.

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Tasked with bringing his father’s body back, Drew is booked on the next flight to Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Before he leaves, his mother Hollie (Susan Sarandon) instructs that she wants his father’s body cremated and he sets off on his journey.

On the flight, he meets stewardess Claire (Kirsten Dunst) who, because the plane is half empty, upgrades Drew to First Class. The two begin to talk and, to help Drew out, Claire draws a map of Elizabethtown and writes her number on the top.

Once Drew finally arrives, he is led directly to the funeral home where he meets up with his cousin Jesse (Paul Schneider). After viewing the body, Drew is confronted by his relatives, who want his father to be buried, but he sticks with his mother’s wishes and proceeds in arranging a cremation.

After various attempts to contact home come to no avail and not wanting to spend any more time with his relatives, Drew remembers he has Claire’s number and calls her up and the two end up talking for most of the night. The next day, the two arrange to meet each other and end up exploring the town together.

Later, after feeling guilty about shunning the wishes of his father’s family, Drew attempts to stop the cremation from taking place but finds out he is too late. Depressed, he returns to his hotel room to find Claire waiting for him. The two agree they are not right for each other but end up spending the night together anyway.

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Drew confides in Claire that after he is finished in Elizabethtown, he is going to return home to finish the suicide attempt he started before his father’s death. She doesn’t attempt to talk him out of it, but instead agrees to go with him to his father’s memorial service the next day.

The memorial starts off well, with kind words being said, tap dancing being done, but it is eventually cut short when a performance of Free Bird ends with a fire starting and everybody having to leave the building.

Opting to drive back home rather than fly, Drew says goodbye to Claire, who presents him with a map, CD and interest points to stop at along the way. The journey becomes a moving experience for Drew, who grows closer to his father in death than he ever was in life and at each of Claire’s stops along the way he spreads some of his father’s ashes.

The final point of the trip consists of a choice: Drew can either drive home and finish his life or turn to the Second Largest Farmers Market in the world. He chooses the latter and Claire is waiting for him and the two reunite.

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Thoughts & Reaction

Much like his previous effort, Vanilla Sky, Elizabethtown managed to split the critics down the middle (strangely enough, both hold the exact same Metacritic rating) and although it did make its money back at the box office, the numbers were nowhere near as big. Also, unlike Vanilla Sky, Elizabethtown didn’t manage to find an audience in the DVD market. So what went so wrong?

Well, firstly, we can look at the story. It is an interesting premise but somehow you just cannot connect with the characters fully enough to care about their plight. This could somewhat be blamed on the actors (I will be getting to them shortly) but the pace of the story and the dialogue and interactions just didn’t really seem to fit. Which is a shame as Crowe has written some of the most complex and interesting characters of recent time and isn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve when it comes to emotional dialogue. But all we really get here is a bit of a damp squid.

This isn’t helped by the two lead characters cast in the movie. Now, before anybody starts having a go at me, I will admit that Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst have been part of two of the biggest movie trilogies of the past decade. However, this does not mean that they are necessarily good actors.

The trouble I have with them both is that, although they are both apparently easy on the eye, between the two of them they have the personality of dough. That is, when it is raised and baked it is good, but eat it before and you will get a stomach ache. They are both still in the unbaked stage and further attempts by the two to become serious actors since have not yet managed to change my mind. Their performances in this film are wooden and devoid of emotion and, for that reason, the movie’s heart is lost.

Interestingly enough, Ashtn Kutcher was first cast in the role of Drew and even though I thought Orlando Bloom wasn’t fantastic, if Kutcher had kept the part I fear the movie would have been unwatchable.

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The combination of these two forces makes Elizabethtown not only the worst Cameron Crowe movie to be put in front of a camera, but it also holds an unhappy place as one of the worst films I have seen.

When the movie finished I felt a sense of slightly being robbed.I wanted the complex, interesting, emotional story that I had seen in previous films, but all I got was blanked-face Orlando Bloom trying to be depressed, which is exactly how I was feeling when the credits rolled.

Personally, I felt this film was a bit of a blow for Crowe but I also knew in reality nobody is perfect all the time and I was sure his next movie would be great. But nothing ever came. So, what happened to Cameron Crowe after 2005?

The answer is, not much. June 2008 saw an announcement that Crowe was attached to write and direct his seventh feature, currently untitled, but with stars Ben Stiller and Reese Witherspoon attached. Filming was to begin January 2009, but nothing has come of it so far. Crowe is also attached to direct a retrospective movie about grunge band Pearl Jam to celebrate their 20th anniversary; again no further details have been released.

I, personally, would love to see Crowe back on game doing what he does best, but I am not sure how long I, and the rest of the movie going public, will have to wait.

So, that brings me to the end of a short but sweet look back at the work of Cameron Crowe.

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Next time, I will be taking on my biggest challenge yet, by looking back through the films of Joel Schumacher. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride…

Elizabethtown Key Info:Released: 14th October 2005 (US) / 4th November 2005 (UK)Distributed By: Paramount PicturesBudget: $45,000,000Box Office Gross: $52,034,889Best DVD Edition: Elizabethtown DVD